Carmen RonzonniAugust 17, 2011
Chico’s Bail Bonds Player of the Week: Carmen Ronzonni
Ever since my air conditioner died a few weeks ago I don’t trust any of the things humming and groaning in my home—the dishwasher, the fridge, the microwave, the computer: each seems on the brink of having some small, cheap, vitally important cog snap and cause the whole mechanism to seize up and go silent. I’ve lived a meandering life, awake only in stories, never forging any kind of direct, pragmatic connection to actual events, and my tendency for anxiety feeds into my literary dreaminess so that every possible setback seems not simply one problem to solve but an omen foreboding the inevitable unraveling of daily life into a tragedy, as if a broken toaster will lead, eventually, to me freezing to death on an ice chunk in Antarctica or gagging fatally on Elizabethan poison. More than once in the last few days I’ve thought of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the horrifying novel in which the whole of human civilization as we know it is shown in smoldering irrevocable cinders, in a state of tragic fall, and a father and a son walk through it together, barely surviving. I am a father now and I have a son. I am nervous; everything seems provisional; at the core of it all as always I feel fake.
I turn and have always turned to stories. Yesterday various stories travelled alongside me by chance or design. I read a book about how to calm unhappy babies, the story there being that several methods must be mastered and executed perfectly or there will be a house full of suffering. My son is too young still, just a couple weeks into his life, to have hit the period when some babies start wailing for hours on end, but he has had his fussy moments, and I’ve tried to bring the story of the book to life and have felt like I wasn’t quite doing it right, and my own son felt awkward in my hands and in the gap between the ideal story and the real fakery of life. I read that book on the bus but kept getting my attention coaxed away by two guys talking nearby, trading stories of things gone wrong to the point that litigation ensued. The story one of them told that I can recall now involved a man with cancer in one eye who went in for surgery to get the eye removed and the surgeon removed the other eye by mistake. Later, at lunch, I read a couple articles sent to me by my father and a friend, respectively, both articles concerned with identifying the narrative embedded behind certain current events. In the column my dad sent, the author traced the roots of the London riots to a sense of profound desperation, the riots a grab for power by the powerless. In the column my friend sent, the author criticized President Obama for failing to tell a pointed story in his words and actions, instead attempting to placate both sides and in doing so satisfying no one. My thought when I read the former article was that the roots of riot are everywhere now, and my thought when I read the second was that even the President is faking it, and not even that well. On the long, bumpy bus ride home I stared out the window at what seemed like imminent ruins.
In my mind, the specter of Carmen Ronzonni presides over the anxious flimsiness of all things. He is, as his teammates in The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training quickly realize, a fake. That he is friends with Kelly Leak buys him a lot of time and credit with the team, but once he actually has to start pitching in game conditions, the ineptitude beneath his fakery becomes apparent, and it begins to dawn on the Bears that he and they are all doomed. He’s supposed to be their pitcher, the center of their hopes, but he is only a collection of imitations and bluster. He is insubstantial, a scarecrow stuffed only with stories.
Still, maybe there’s a place for guys like Carmen Ronzonni. When I first saw the movie back in 1977, I was drawn first and most strongly to Kelly, Ogilvie, and Tanner, and I think I sided with the general feelings of the team regarding Carmen. Even though I hadn’t even seen the first Bears movie yet, I understood that Carmen was an outsider, and though (or maybe because) I saw some of myself in his tendency to use imitation in place of anything real, I kept Carmen at arm’s length. He wasn’t quite one of us. But as I’ve watched the movie more recently and repeatedly, I’ve come to think of Carmen as a deeply important member of the team in terms of the sequel. I see him this way not only because the team needs a pitcher and not even because his persona of recycled bullshit is a crystalline microcosm of that deeply American genre, the sequel. It’s this: maybe a guy saturated in stories can help things feel more like a story and not just part of some mundane conveyer belt toward the bone yard.
This is not just an abstract thing, either. There are a couple of cases in which Carmen livens things up in a concrete way, such as when he swipes a couple of Playboys and brings them back to the guys in the hotel room. More importantly, he’s a key figure, along with Kelly, in procuring the van that takes the boys to Houston. Kelly is the driver of the van and we assume he was the driving force in the ballsy move to take possession of the van, but it seems there would be no van without Carmen’s mysterious connections (I believe Carmen’s explanation about where they got the van is an uncharacteristically terse statement along the lines of “From a guy I know”). Carmen, albeit a bullshitter, has bullshitted his way into the darker, more grown-up world that Kelly rides through. Though he comes off as a fake as a baseball-playing boy among the other boys, he seems, at least according to Kelly’s estimation of him as “cool,” as if he has been more successful at finding a legitimate place among the older hoodlums that we assume Kelly hangs out with when not smashing home runs with the Bears.
Carmen’s legitimacy as an experienced outlaw reaches its apex in one of the film’s best scenes. The Bears have made their getaway from their parents, but they still need to pass through one more barrier before truly embarking upon the Open Road, that barrier being a police car that starts to follow the van (this scene starts at about 6:30 in the clip below). When this police car is noticed by the team, almost everyone begins to panic. Kelly will become the hero of the moment, acting quickly and coolly, lighting a cigarette and putting on his hat and shades to make himself look older. (This transformation worked on me as a kid—back then, he really did suddenly look like an adult—but when I watch the film now Kelly’s stoned, acned leer as he salutes the cops marks him hilariously as the single most suspicious-looking driver in history). But while Kelly is leaping into action, Carmen is encouraging everyone to “stay cool.” It could read like another blowhard moment from the imitating interloper, but something about it rings true, as if Carmen, the boy made up entirely of stories, has been through moments like this before, charged moments, the heartbeats of a storied life. When the police move on without pulling the boys over, Kelly slumps and exhales, betraying a nervousness he had kept hidden, the boys exult, and Carmen smiles and nods in the center of it all like a happy maestro who knew how the song would go all along.
And speaking of songs, the makers of the sequel chose this happy moment (about 7:30 in the clip below) to unleash what they surely hoped (in vain, it turned out) would be a runaway hit song, James Rolleston’s “Life Is Looking Good.” Soaring, cheesy freedom! I chase that sweet lie through all disintegrations.
Special thanks to nunyer for creating Carmen’s card.